Theology has consequences

One of the reasons that Reformed theologians consider good doctrine important is that what we believe about God has a direct influence on how we act and behave. My college RUF pastor would say, “Orthodoxy leads to orthopraxy.” The corollary is that bad doctrine also has an effect. And it can show up in interesting ways.

Recently there have been news stories about Doug Wilson’s involvement in the wedding of a known, convicted pedophile. There is quite a bit of information out there regarding this, but I want to highlight just a few things. There will be many links that have more details if anyone is interested. [Probably the best summary is found at Wartburg Watch. Many of the links below come from that post.]

First, though, I want to consider some of what Doug Wilson has written that might give clarity to his actions. Not that I agree with his actions, but that it might help us understand what he’s done.

Doug Wilson teaches, in numerous places, that the cure for sexual temptation is marriage and having sex frequently with one’s spouse:

3. I am beset with sexual temptations. Does God have a solution for me? Yes. The love of a good woman who is willing to make love to you for the rest of your life. 4. But I am not married. What should I do about sexual temptation in that case? You should find out her name, and ask her. – Wilson, Douglas (2015-02-04). How to Exasperate Your Wife (Kindle Locations 951-955). Canon Press. Kindle Edition.


Now God has provided a very practical help for Christians as they struggle with sexual temptation; that help is called lawful sexual activity. In order to provide satisfactory protection, sexual relations with a godly spouse should be robust and frequent. There needs to be quantitative protection, particularly for the husband. At the same time, the benefit of sexual relations should not be measured merely in terms of frequency or amount. There needs to be qualitative protection, particularly for the benefit of the wife. – Wilson, Douglas (2009-04-01). Reforming Marriage (p. 22). Canon Press. Kindle Edition.

Doug Wilson also explains that in criminal issues in the church, like child abuse, the church decides whether or not to involve the civil authorities:

He [the pastor] should always (of course) be discrete, but there will be times when he has a moral obligation to inform the elders of his church, or in drastic circumstances, the civil magistrate. If a man has molested children who are in his home, then those children must be protected from him. Unfortunately, we live in a time when the social workers who rescue the children might treat them as unbiblically as their foster father did. This adds to the weight of the man’s sin—he has left them horribly unprotected. But there is a sense in which there is a biblical confidentiality. The decision to inform the civil magistrate is a decision which is made by the church and not by the magistrate. A worthy pastor would defy any subpoena which tried to force information from him. But if the situation warranted it, the subpoena would have been unnecessary because he would have already presented the information. – Wilson, Douglas (2011-03-07). Fidelity (Kindle Locations 1748-1757). Canon Press. Kindle Edition. (emphasis added)

What does this have to do with the wedding of a convicted pedophile? Well, I believe that Wilson’s ideas concerning the curative powers of marriage, and his belief in the primacy of the church in deciding how to address criminal behavior may have influenced his actions in the case of Steve Sitler.

In 2005, Steve Sitler was a college student at New Saint Andrews College. He had been boarding with area families while he attended college. In March 2005, he confessed to Doug Wilson to having molested very young children over a period of years, including in the homes he had boarded or visited. According to an article from the Southern Poverty Law Center:

Wilson and college officials told the newspaper that they had immediately kicked Sitler out of school and notified police of his crimes, but decided not to inform members of the public because of concerns for victims’ privacy.

Another news article from 2006 reports that Wilson requested leniency in Sitler’s case:

On August 19th, 2005, three or four months before notifying his parishioners of Sitler’s crimes, Doug Wilson wrote a letter on Christ Church letterhead to Judge John Stegner. In that letter, Wilson requested leniency for Steven Sitler, writing:

‘I would urge that the civil penalties applied would be measured and limited. I have a good hope that Steven has genuinely repented, and that he will continue to deal with this to become a productive and contributing member of society.’

Steven Sitler is sitting right now in the Latah County Jail, serving a one-year sentence. Twice a week, Sitler drives himself, unsupervised, to his court-ordered therapy in Clarkston and Pullman. For 18 months, Sitler was a member of the Moscow community. He was a student in good standing at New St. Andrews College. He was not then and is not now a registered sex offender: his face won’t appear on websites like Watchdog until he’s released back into the community — a community Doug Wilson seems to believe should welcome the return of Steven Sitler not as a criminal; not as a serial pedophile; not as a dangerous man, but as a repentant sinner.

Doug Wilson has written that he believes Sitler was delusional when he was molesting children. Wilson has no training in psychology or counseling, not even ministerial training. Wilson is not ordained. In response to criticism that he did not warn his congregation or the greater Moscow community in an adequate or timely fashion, Wilson writes: “I am a pastor. I cover up sins for a living.

According to the Moscow-Pullman Daily News, Sitler was sentenced to life in prison in 2006 but only served one year:

Sitler, 30, of Moscow, was sentenced to life in prison, with retained jurisdiction, in September 2006 under a Rule 11 plea agreement with the state for lewd conduct with a child under 16. He served one year with the Idaho Department of Corrections’ retained jurisdiction treatment programs and less than a year in the custody of the Latah County Jail before being released onto probation. Under the terms of his probation, Sitler is prohibited from associating with anyone under the age of 18 without supervision of an approved chaperone.

In 2011, Steve Sitler became engaged to a young woman from Christ Church, Doug Wilson’s church. Because of the terms of his probation, concern was raised about him marrying and having children:

The discussion amongst Latah County Prosecutor , Bill Thompson; Judge Stegner; and Mr. Wallenwaber, focused, in part,  on the legal consequence if/when Steven Sitler and Katie Travis have children.  It may be the case that Mr. Sitler will not be allowed to share a home with his wife and child or children.  This remedy may be utilized in Idaho when the father is a convicted pedophile. Judge Stegner ruled that the wedding could go forward and issues regarding the protection of children will be addressed if and children are a factor in the marriage.

On June 11, 2011, Steve and Katie were married by Doug Wilson. Last year, Steve and Katie had a baby. The terms of his parole required that Steve be chaperoned at all times when with his child. His wife, Katie, was one of the approved chaperones. It appears that these measures were not successful in protecting their child.

The news story this week states:

During Tuesday’s review hearing, Latah County Prosecuting Attorney Bill Thompson said the state originally requested a review of Sitler’s conditions of probation to provide guidance on how to move forward given the fact Sitler had fathered a child and the results of a polygraph test had disclosed concerning actions.

Thompson said information the court now has “shows (Sitler) has had contact with his child that resulted in actual sexual stimulation” Thompson said the incidents in question occurred while Sitler was chaperoned.

“In some extent the state’s worst fears appeared to be realized by some of the recent disclosures in the polygraphs,” Thompson said. “The actions that he has engaged in and disclosed are a compelling basis that he cannot have anything close to a normal parental relationship at this time with his child,” Thompson said. “Everybody would love for Mr. Sitler to become a normal person, but the fact is he is not. He is a serial child sexual abuser.” The best way to protect is to prohibit contact except in direct line of vision with a responsible, approved chaperone. At this point in time, that means he would not be able to reside with his wife and child.”

During a review hearing Aug. 1, Sitler was allowed to continue living with his son until a second review hearing could be held. However, during the past month, Thompson said, Sitler’s wife was disqualified as an approved chaperone for failure to report disclosures related directly to the couple’s son and Sitler was required to move out of their home.

This is a very sad and disturbing situation. Doug Wilson has promised that Christ Church will release a statement regarding these new developments. But at this point I’m not sure how his actions can be defended. I hope Wilson will reconsider his teachings on the sexual temptation and marriage as a cure. I hope he will reconsider the primacy of the church in deciding how to deal with these types of cases. And I seriously hope someone will act to protect this child.

8 thoughts on “Theology has consequences

  1. Still Reforming says:

    We live in an age when “father’s rights” (so-called) trump the rights of children, if they even have any. In my divorce, the judge asked in chambers if the DCF report showed anything illegal. The judge hadn’t even read it. He relied on the attorneys. Mine was a wimp and my ex-‘s was a bulldog. The bulldog won. If ex- hadn’t crossed the line (as in “touching the bathing suit area inappropriately”), 50-50 timeshare was granted. Years of documented grooming behaviors (even confessed to the pastor) didn’t count. So I’ve had to carefully discuss sex in greater clinical detail than I’d been teaching her over the years with respect to modesty, privacy, etc. Now she knows why I identified secret-keeping between him and her related to “tickling games” as inappropriate, something that angered him when I brought up the subject as a family. Yet the judge wasn’t interested in that or other grooming secrets and behaviors of his.


  2. Doug says:

    Rachel, Thank you for bringing this issue to light. I read Wilson’s book, “Reforming Marriage” back around 2000, but haven’t kept up with him over the years. Recently, my wife forwarded me an article by him that’s been making its way around FB in regards to the Kim Davis incident. In the comments section, I noticed someone out of the blue commented about this very subject.

    Much of what you point out concerning the teaching of Wilson sounds consistent with the teaching of early reformers such as Martin Luther [See: TO THE KNIGHTS OF THE TEUTONIC ORDER: AN EXHORTATION That They Lay Aside False Chastity And Take Upon Them The True Chastity Of Wedlock].

    I pretty much agree with Luther’s perspective on marriage and its relation to normal sexual desire in men. Coincidently, I recently blogged about this very subject in regards to the Ashley Madison hack. Marriage done in obedience to God is effective in controlling normal sexual desire in men, in much the same way food controls hunger. Food will not control gluttony. Likewise marital relations will not control sexual perversion such as pedophilia, bestiality, or homosexuality, etc.

    From what you say, it seems Doug Wilson may be dangerously confounding them all.


  3. Muff Potter says:

    Mr. Wilson needs realize that we are a nation under civil & criminal laws and are not beholden to any particular theological belief system. Child molestation is a crime and it’s only a question of time before the courts come down hard and heavy on religious organizations who try to ‘handle’ it in house instead of filing a police report.


  4. anna says:

    Great points all around. I just finished reading Rosaria Butterfield’s book and she pretty much says the exact opposite that view of marriage – that it can’t get rid of sexual sin. I agree that the child is the real victim here, and even if the molester was encouraged to get married, he should have been steered toward maybe an older woman with sex offender tendencies herself and have one or both of them be sterilized. The more I read about this case the weirder it gets, mainly with regard to what on earth the wife and her family were thinking.

    One thing that kind of bothers me about the statements by the various “watchdog” bloggers is the fact that some of them come dangerously close to saying that women don’t have moral agency and think everything is due to brainwashing. If a patriarchalist said women don’t have moral agency, we would rightfully choke on that (And some men actually believe that, like my abusive ex). But then the bloggers say that the men in the wife’s life should have steered her better. They undoubtedly should have but I mean women are adults too and we are responsible before God. Think of the mormon cults and how many women are there willingly and how they try to stop other women from leaving. I feel like brainwashing isn’t a valid excuse.

    For example, I remember reading a post by a woman who had escaped the Michael Pearl movement who basically said “I used to hit my kids because I was so brainwashed and it’s my husband’s fault”. Bullcrap. She hit her kids because she was abusive and made poor decisions as a mother. This rang especially foul to me because I was abused by my unrepentant mother and abusers always find a way to blame the abuse on others.

    Obviously I don’t know the people so I don’t know their motivations, but regardless, I hope the kid gets taken away and adopted by a non-abusive family.


  5. MeganC says:

    I am so grateful that these things are coming to light. Doug’s father (Jim Wilson) kept me in a highly abusive marriage for 3 years and then just ripped me apart when I left (post-separation abuse), taking my ex husband’s side. It was awful. Just awful. His beliefs permeated my heart so much that I literally believed that God was no longer with me, once I took the kids and left. The apple does not fall far from the tree.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s